Friday, August 12, 2011

The Auditorium Theater and Hotel

The Chicago Daily Tribune announced on January 30, 1887, that ground had been broken for the Chicago Auditorium Building which was to be 11 stories high and have a seating capacity of 5,000 to 8,000, and cost $1,500,000. In order to clear the land it was necessary to remove three residences, a large skating rink, and the Hotel Brunswick.

In April the paper reported again with information taken from the specifications of the architects. Now, the building is to cost two million dollars. And be 10 stories high. When completed is was to be a hotel and auditorium. The hotel entrance was to be on Michigan avenue and the auditorium on Congress street. “The auditorium will be the largest in the word, containing 5,000 seats and a full seating capacity of 9,000.” The amount of iron used will be the largest ever made for one building, 4,000 tons of materials.

The plans for the building were provided by Adler and Sullivan who carefully prepared the foundation. Frank Lloyd Wright as a young man served as a draftsman. The borings for the floating foundation extended 60 feet “into the tunnel clay.” The excavation required the removal of 30,000 cubic yards of earth. (I suppose they only had horse-power, but it is not clear how long the process took.) For the foundation “two transverse layers of twelve-inch timber were first put down. Above these was placed a mass of concrete in which was imbedded railroad bars and T beams.”

For the hotel they dug an artesian well to a depth of over 1,200 feet which would furnish 150 gallons per minute for hotel use. There were nine passenger elevators and four freight elevators. The hotel had 400 rooms, with 100 rooms having a private bath. The dining room was on the tenth floor. We can only imagine how beautiful the hotel was for their special guests.

There was an immense organ in the auditorium. It was built by Frank Roosevelt of New York and contained four-manual, 175 stops and 7,371 pipes and bells. The largest pipes were thirty-two feet in height. It was to cost fifty thousand dollars. I don’t know if the organ still exists.

It was later decided that the substructure up to the top of the second floor would be granite. The rest of the building would be stone A new stone was to be introduced. It was a “fine gray granite, with a rose-colored tint running though it.” The quarries were located in St. Louis County, Minnesota about 80 miles north of Duluth and 50 miles west of Lake Superior. The cutting, polishing and preparations would be done in Chicago by Chicago workmen.

The Auditorium was formally dedicated December 9, 1889 by President Benjamin Harrison. It was now ready for numerous Scottish events including a tribute to Queen Victoria.

There is more to the story and you can find additional information on the Internet.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew Society

The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club is September 10, 2011. Watch for announcement of special speaker. Subject: “The Scottish Roots of Rotary.”

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